DESPITE reverting back to a six-game format after Round 3’s nine-game marathon, there was plenty of worthy action to come out of Round 4 of last year’s NAB League season. The Northern Academies continued to get into the swing of things, with two of them making up a top four all joined on 12 points by the weekend’s conclusion. Fans were treated to two separate double-headers – at Southport and Sandringham – while Calder became the first side to make the trip down to Tasmania to face the Devils. All six Victorian Country sides underwent a bye round, while some of the remaining Metro clubs took slightly weakened line-ups into their matches.
First to take the park in Saturday’s lone pair of fixtures were the Northern Knights and GWS GIANTS Academy, with the New South Welshmen overcoming a half time deficit to storm home 26-point winners. A four-goal to one third term proved the difference for GWS as both sides struggled for accuracy in front of goal in the face of Sandringham’s coastal breeze.
GIANTS Academy jet Tom Green had a day out as his side’s only eventual draftee afield, racking up a game-high 38 disposals as far-and-away the best player on the park. Carlton may have bid on Green in last year’s draft, but would end up taking arguably the next best inside midfielder out there on this occasion within the first round in Sam Philp, who competed hard for his team-high 26 touches. Ayce Taylor, the only other draftee was quiet with eight disposals, while newly-made Knight Liam Delahunty booted three goals, and former Oakleigh recruit Jeromy Lucas managed two majors from his 28 disposals.
Sydney faced a tough test next up on the Trevor Barker Beach Oval turf, facing the talented – albeit slightly compromised – Sandringham side on its home patch. But lead by an inspired couple of bottom-aged smalls, the Swans were able to get on top and stay there for an unlikely win against the eventual preliminary finalists. A 10-goal to five opening half made for an unassailable lead, with the Dragons pouring on some late consolations to bring the final margin to a more respectable 22 points.
Over-ager Angus Hanrahan was Sandringham’s best, covering the ground well for 28 touches and 2.4, while bottom-agers Darby Hipwell (24 disposals, 0.3) and Archie Perkins (16 disposals, two goals) enjoyed some added responsibility given Sandringham’s many omissions. 2020 over-age hopeful Kyle Yorke also impressed with three majors, but was ultimately outdone by Sydney bottom-age gun Braeden Campbell, who booted four from his 13 disposals. Allies squad member Hamish Ellem also managed two majors alongside Sam Thorne, but it was Errol Gulden who caught the eye on the outside and going forward, as he amassed 27 disposals and a goal to continue his electrifying form.
Fast forward a day and travelling up to Southport were the Oakleigh Chargers to take on Gold Coast’s Academy, minus all of their 2019 draftees. The squad shuffling and travel took toll as the visitors went down by a resounding 71 points to the SUNS, managing just three goals in an unusually impotent performance going forward. With eight goals to one in a dominant second half, the home side took away the four points and rose atop of the NAB League ladder with its perfect 3-0 record.
Connor Budarick took the field with fellow SUNS draftees Matt Conroy and Patrick Murtagh, returning a best afield performance on the back of his game-high 28 disposals and one major. The two aforementioned talls were quieter with a combined 11 disposals, but also contributed three collective goals and 29 hitouts. Josh Gore could have had a day out had he been more accurate than his 2.5 from 20 disposals, while 2020 prospect Alex Davies found it 16 times and also booted a goal. For Oakleigh, over-ager Joe Ayton-Delaney stood up to amass 26 disposals, followed by Kaden Schreiber‘s 24. 2020 top-ager Lochlan Jenkins had it 17 times, while Collingwood NGA prospect Reef McInnes was a touch quieter with 13 disposals – two less than 2020 19-year-old prospect Jacob Woodfull‘s 15 to go with 16 hitouts.
The second match in the Sunshine State saw Eastern come from behind to down an accurate Brisbane Lions Academy, with a pair of Richmond draftees having an impact on the contest among a raft of bottom-aged talent. The Ranges had the better of the first half in tricky conditions, but found themselves behind come three quarter time as the Lions turned up the heat. The eventual minor premiers had plenty left in the tank though, booting five goals to Brisbane’s one in an epic final term surge.
At the forefront of the win was bottom-ager Salele Faegaimalii, who racked up 28 disposals and slammed home two goals from midfield in a barnstorming performance. He was supported well by half-back Joshua Clarke, who booted a terrific goal from his 21 touches, while cricketing prodigy Wil Parker found it 14 times. For the Lions, skipper Will Martyn amassed a monster 37 disposals, while fellow Richmond recruit Noah Cumberland snared three goals from 15 touches. Others to impress were bottom-agers Saxon Crozier (24 touches), Carter Michael (19), and Blake Coleman (four goals), while bigmen Tom Wischnat (19 disposals, three goals) and Ben Hickleton (three goals) also had a say for their respective sides. But is was Eastern’s team spread which won it on the day and earned a top four berth.
Down on the Apple Isle, Tasmania made good on its first full-time hosting duties in the NAB League, knocking over Calder by 12 points at Penguin Reserve. While the Devils were essentially at full strength, the Cannons were missing a few top-age stars but came in boasting some promising bottom-agers to match that of their opponent. After a goalless opening term, the game picked up with Tasmania kicking out to a 21-point lead at the main break despite only having one more scoring shot. The Devils’ accuracy held them in good stead, helping them to maintain the lead in the face of Calder’s greater number of opportunities come the final siren.
The only two draftees afield both donned the Tasmanian green, with AFL rookies Mitch O’Neill (16 disposals) and Matthew McGuiness (20) both having their say in patches. But the impressive bottom-age contingent featuring Patrick Walker (24 disposals, one goal), Oliver Davis (19 disposals), Sam Collins (18), and Jackson Callow (four goals) mattered most, with 16-year-old Division 2 MVP Sam Banks also collecting 17 touches on his NAB League debut. For Calder, Essendon NGA prospect Cody Brand booted three goals to prove his versatility, but it was Harrison Minton-Connell who led the way with 26 touches and 1.3 from midfield. Coburg-listed over-ager Tye Browning had it 22 times, with Lions teammate Ben Overman notching 17 touches from defence, and bottom-aged gun Jackson Cardillo showing his potential with 15 disposals.
The final game of the round brought us to our fourth venue, as Western Jets thumped the Northern Territory Thunder Academy by 71 points at Downer Oval in Williamstown. While the Jets struggled to adjust to their ‘home’ conditions with a massive 24 behinds, their weight of opportunities ensured they would also put 18 shots through the big sticks to deliver the winning score. For the Thunder, who ran out of legs after a bright opening term, this would be their third loss in as many NAB League appearances for the year.
Western’s bigmen stood tall on the day, with Aaron Clarke booting 4.6 from 18 disposals and 10 marks, while former-Sandringham product Will Kennedy had 25 disposals and 28 hitouts in the ruck, providing terrific service to fellow over-ager Daly Andrews (25 disposals, six inside 50s). There was a bunch of talent which ran out for the Thunder, as Maurice Rioli Jnr made his debut with 16 touches, Nichols Medalist Beau O’Connell starred with 18 disposals and a goal, and Brandon Rusca lead the disposal count with 25. Stephen Cumming battled hard in the ruck for 18 touches, 30 hitouts and a goal, while Tyson Woods was the standout forward (13 disposals, 3.2).